Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Australia vs India updates

44th over- Australia 154/3 (Clarke 34, Ponting 68)
An Ashwin maiden.
Ashwin 13-3-24-2

Sky currently showing little pieces of Michael Clarke's fantastic 329* innings in the second test. What a performance and a perfect example of putting the team before himself, could've easily beaten Brian Lara's 400* all time record there.

43rd over- Australia 154/3 (Clarke 34, Ponting 68)
Sky recalling the second test when it was infact these two who turned the game hugely in the Aussies direction, could lightening strike twice?  The over before the drinks break is a maiden for Sharma.
Sharma 9-3-18-0

Bowling figures
Z.Khan 11-1-32-1
U.Yadav 9-0-67-0
R.Ashwin 12-3-24-2
I.Sharma 8-2-18-0
V.Sehwag 2-0-8-0

42nd over- Australia 154/3 (Clarke 34, Ponting 68)
Rory McIlroy will be watching the tennis as his partner Caroline Wozniacki steps onto court with the Belgain Kim Clijsters. Two Ponting runs in the 42nd over.
Ashwin 12-3-24-2

41st over- Australia 152/3 (Clarke 34, Ponting 66)
Ishant's back and Ponting gets two with a nice cut shot. Poor cricket all round as Pontings drive is air born; however doesn't reach Ashwin in the field, who lets Ponting go through for a single with a misfield. Clarke times his drive beautifully through extra cover and another boundary for the captain. Seven from the over, which saw the Aussies go past 150.
Sharma 8-2-18-0

40th over- Australia 145/3 (Clarke 30, Ponting 63)
Ashwin continues and Australia are looking comfortable at the moment dare I say it. Just the one Ponting run from the over.
Ashwin 11-3-22-2

39th over- Australia 144/3 (Clarke 30, Ponting 62)
These two plus Michael Hussey are the three key batsmen in this innings now, and India probably need a wicket soon if they are to stay on top of the match. Khan continues and Clarke gets four with a nicely placed shot down to fine leg.
Khan 11-1-32-1

38th over- Australia 140/3 (Clarke 26, Ponting 62)
I'm a genius, Yadav doesn't continue and is replaced by Ashwin who had a very good spell with the ball this morning. Amongst all the runs Yadav conceded I missed out Clarke and Ponting brought up the second 50 partnership of the match. Just the one from the Ashwin over.
Ashwin 10-3-21-2

37th over- Australia 139/3 (Clarke 25, Ponting 62)
Azarenka has beaten Radwanska in three sets in Melbourne and is the first Woman into the semi-finals. Anyways, in the cricket Khan can't decide what side of the wicket he wants to bowl to Clarke at in another tight over. Clarke gets away with an edge which doesn't carry to the slips. Three from the over.
Khan 10-1-28-1

36th over- Australia 136/3 (Clarke 22, Ponting 62)
Are you Mitchell Johnson in disguise? A horrible looking bouncer beats Saha and goes for five wides. Probably be Yadav's last over with Sehwag's confidence in his bowler decreases with no slips in place. Easy singles to the batsmen as the last four balls are one's. Nine from the over.
Yadav 9-0-67-0

35th over- Australia 127/3 (Clarke 20, Ponting 60)
Khan in his ninth over keeps consistently tight only for Sharma to misfield to give Ponting another three.
Khan 9-1-25-1

34th over- Australia 124/3 (Clarke 20, Ponting 57)
Ponting again drives brilliantly past the bowler for another boundary against Yadav's name. Better from Yadav who gets a play and miss from Clarke; however on the hole both are playing him with relative ease. Seven from the over as Yadav lowers his run rate to a watertight 7.25.
Yadav 8-0-58-0

33rd over- Australia 117/3 (Clarke 19, Ponting 51)
More runs for Australia who have come out positively since lunch, Clarke guides Khan to the square leg boundary. And just them four runs from the over as Khan tightens his line up with the last five balls.
Khan 8-1-22-1

32nd over- Australia 113/3 (Clarke 15, Ponting 51)
Ponting brings up another test fifty with a quickly ran two. Clarke pulls Yadav for a boundary and the young bowler is becoming very expensive. Eight runs from the over, Yadav going at 7.46 runs per over.
Yadav 7-0-51-0

31st over- Australia 105/3 (Clarke 10, Ponting 48)
Khan to continue and why not? He's bowled a good line today. One's for both Clarke and Ponting before the latter drives Khan with the last ball for a lovely three runs.
Khan 7-1-18-1

30th over- Australia 100/3 (Clarke 9, Ponting 44)
Yadav is given the first over after lunch and strays down the leg side twice allowing both Clarke and Ponting easy singles to start the session.
Yadav 6-0-43-0

This isn't the only sporting event happening in Down Under currently, its the first side of both the Male and Female quarter finals at the Australian Open and in the first of the latter quarter finals Victoria Azarneka and Agnieszka Radwanska are currently level at one set apiece. The Pole Radwanska took the first set on a tie break, before the third seed Azarneka leveled the game in impressive style winning the set to love.

Lunch break at the Adelaide Oval and India will be very pleased after the opening session, with the wicket of Cowan swinging it in their favour. Sehwag's captaincy has been good and positive, with only the exclusion of a third slip at times his downfall.

29th over- Australia 98/3 (Clarke 8, Ponting 43)
Khan comes back into the fray replacing Sehwag, who starts by coming around the wicket to Clarke. A single with the last ball before lunch means Khan doesn't get his maiden, but its been India's morning as the players go off for lunch.
Khan 6-1-13-1

28th over- Australia 97/3 (Clarke 7, Ponting 43)
Clarke whose a great player of spin finds two through the gully point area with the first ball of the over and backs that up with a boundary, which Yadav at extra cover should've prevented. A further single means its been Ashwin's most expensive over so far.
Ashwin 9-3-20-2

27th over- Australia 90/3 (Clarke 0, Ponting 43)
Sehwag continues and Ponting comes down to the ground to the pitch of the ball for another boundary, his seventh of the innings. Two further runs through cover edge Ponting closer to his half-century. For those interest Ponting is three for three when it comes to centuries at Adelaide vs India and he looks set for four from four today, playing great is the former captain.
Sehwag 2-0-8-0

26th over- Australia 84/3 (Clarke 0, Ponting 37)
Shane Watson asks how many test centuries has Ricky Ponting made against India in Adelaide? And as the Sky commentators contemplate whether its one or two, Ashwin gets Cowan caught in the point cover area by Laxman. Lazy shot really by Cowan who had looked comfortable and was set. Australia's captain Michael Clarke comes to the crease for a nervy spell before the lunch break. Wicket maiden for Ashwin.
Ashwin 8-3-13-2

25th over- Australia 84/2 (Cowan 30, Ponting 37)
The captain Sehwag brings himself on for a bit of part-time spin before lunch. Comfortable singles apiece for the duo.
Sehwag 1-0-2-0

24th over- Australia 82/2 (Cowan 29, Ponting 36)
A Ponting sweep brings up the 50 partnership as these two fight back. Singles apiece to Cowan and Ponting means there is six from the over.
Ashwin 7-2-13-1

23rd over- Australia 76/2 (Cowan 28, Ponting 31)
Maiden impressive over from Sharma.
Sharma 7-2-11-0

22nd over- Australia 76/2 (Cowan 28, Ponting 31)
Ashwin back on replacing the expensive Yadav and just the single from it.
Ashwin 6-2-7-1

21st over- Australia 75/2 (Cowan 28, Ponting 30)
No third slip means Cowan's edge through that region goes unpunished and four runs added with a fortunate boundary. The pair run two from a shot that just beats cover. Sharma's been unlucky this morning not to have picked a wicket up.
Sharma 6-1-11-0

20th over- Australia 69/2 (Cowan 22, Ponting 30)
Leg bye to start the over. Ponting pulls the next delivery for his third consecutive boundary against Yadav. On his back foot Ponting drives another four through point. Another expensive Yadav over ends with a single apiece for Ponting and Cowan. Yadav has conceded 41 of the 69 runs Australia have scored so far, to be fair to him, his bad balls have been punished and his good one's having been edged for runs too.
Yadav 5-0-41-0

19th over- Australia 58/2 (Cowan 21, Ponting 21)
Just a single from a tight Sharma over.
Sharma 5-1-5-0

18th over- Australia 57/2 (Cowan 20, Ponting 21)
Ponting with a horrible attempted pull shot, completely misses and lucky not to edge a short Yadav pull. Yadav follows that up with a rank wide delivery which Ponting flicks comfortably to fine leg for a boundary. Yadav bowls great line and unfortunate to see Ponting's edge go to where a fourth slip would've been but instead gives Ponting another boundary. Nine from the over.
Yadav 4-0-30-0

17th over- Australia 48/2 (Cowan 19, Ponting 13)
Both Ponting and Cowan tap and run for singles in a good over from Sharma who troubles Ponting with the last ball.
Sharma 4-1-4-0

16th over- Australia 46/2 (Cowan 18, Ponting 12)
Yadav continues as Ian Healy praises Sehwag's captaincy on sky. An improved over from Yadav, conceding just the two runs; which included a short ball that troubled Ponting.
Yadav 3-0-21-0

15th over- Australia 44/2 (Cowan 17, Ponting 11)
Cowan with another single. Five dot balls see out of the over as the two sides have a drink break.
Sharma 3-1-2-0

14th over- Australia 43/2 (Cowan 16, Ponting 11)
Yadav replaces Ashwin. Ponting puts a half volley away for three runs. A single from Cowan. Ponting drives brilliantly back past the bowler for his first boundary. Yadav expensive again.
Yadav 2-0-20-0

13th over- Australia 35/2 (Cowan 15, Ponting 4)
Just the single of Sharma's second over.
Sharma 2-1-1-0

12th over- Australia 34/2 (Cowan 15, Ponting 3)
Ashwin gets a play and miss from Ponting with third ball. Ponting gets three with a cut shot of the last ball of another impressive Ashwin over.
Ashwin 5-2-6-1

11th over- Australia 31/2 (Cowan 15, Ponting 0)
Ishant Sharma replaces the impressive Khan. Cowan strong in defence as Sharma comes from around the wicket. A maiden to start for Sharma.
Sharma 1-1-0-0

10th over- Australia 31/2 (Cowan 15, Ponting 0)
A single from Cowan. Ashwin bowls Marsh whose nowhere near it. Marsh had look nervy and was nowhere near a ball that didn't spin much. A deserved wicket for Ashwin who had started brilliantly. Ricky Ponting in earlier then he had hoped. Very much India's morning.
Ashwin 4-2-3-1

9th over- Australia 30/1 (Cowan 14, Marsh 3)
Khan hits Marsh's pads; however just missing the stups. Great bowling from Khan who gets a play and a miss from the out of form Marsh. Too full and straight from Khan and Marsh flicks away from two. Another good over from Khan as India start to apply pressure.
Khan 5-1-12-1

8th over- Australia 28/1 (Cowan 14, Marsh 1)
Ashwin gets an edge out of Cowan but lands safely. Marsh gets away with a single to mid-off. Cowan lucky his drive towards mid-on falls short of the fielder. Couple of singles from another impressive over Ashwin.
Ashwin 3-2-2-0

7th over- Australia 26/1 (Cowan 13, Marsh 0)
Khan in for a fourth over, Cowan pulls second ball for a single. Warner given lbw to an inswinger from Khan. New batsman Marsh defends his first ball. Impressive over from Khan, who built on the pressure applied by the spinner Ashwin.
Khan 4-1-10-1

6th over- Australia 24/0 (Cowan 12, Warner 8)
Ashwin continues, Warner finds Kohli in the field with four of the six deliveries. Another maiden from Ashwin, whose kept the quick scoring Warner quiet.
Ashwin 2-2-0-0

5th over- Australia 24/0 (Cowan 12, Warner 8)
Cowan picks up a couple through cover. Khan pitches too short and Cowan pulls brilliantly for another boundary.
Khan 3-1-6-0

4th over- Australia 18/0 (Cowan 6, Warner 8)
New captain Sehwag replaces Yadav with the spin option of Ashwin. Maiden over.
Ashwin 1-1-0-0

3rd over- Australia 18/0 (Cowan 6, Warner 8)
Singles apiece for Cowan and Warner with first two balls. Khan with impressive over, minus last ball.
Khan 2-1-2-0

2nd over- Australia 16/0 (Cowan 5, Warner 7)
Warner pushes a quick three runs with the first ball. Cowan easily dispatches a rank full toss for four. A single from Cowan. Warner smashes back past Yadav's head for a ran four. Twelve from the over, Australia start in ominous fashion.
Yadav 1-0-12-0

1st over- Australia 4/0 (Cowan 0, Warner 0)
Zaheer Khan opens the bowling for India, couple of balls worry the openers; four leg byes from the over.
Khan 1-1-0-0

Australia win toss and elect to bat.

Team News- 
Australia make one change with Nathan Lyon coming in for Mitchell Starc
India themselves make two changes. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni given a one match ban for a slow over rate in the previous test replaced by Wriddhiman Saha. Ravichandran Ashwin also in for Kumar.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Liverpool are short of Champions League quality

After a great end to the 2010-11 season, Liverpool started the season with realistic hopes of regaining a top four finish, with Mark Bright incredibly even tipping them for the title. However a recent run of poor form has left them seventh in the table despite spending a net £44million since King Kenny's Liverpool return.

Has King Kenny got his transfers wrong and what can Liverpool achieve?
Since the return of the Liverpool legend to the helm of the club; he has brought nine players, all with differing success.
Good purchases
Luis Suarez- The Uruguayan striker has been an undoubted success. Suarez took no time in adjusting to the English game and was fantastic towards the end of last season. The former Ajax man has scored just twice in eleven games before his recent ban; but was still a consistent threat. Since his ban Liverpool have struggled and if they are to achieve their goals this season, they will need Suarez in good form.
Jose Enrique- Liverpool’s left back represented a bargain move at £6million, in doing so solving their problem area. Defensively Liverpool have actually been strong this season, with Enrique’s addition a vital one. The former Newcastle man is as comfortable in his own half as the oppositions, with many calling for him to be selected in the Spanish national side.
Craig Bellamy- A free transfer from Manchester City, Bellamy has been good whenever he’s pulled on the red of Liverpool. A versatile player, with his ability to playing on the wing or up front, meant the dealt was always worth the gamble. Bellamy has often been selected in the key games ahead of out and out wingers, and his goal threat is still as good as ever.
Poor purchases
Andy Carroll- Dalglish quoted him as the ‘minus £15million man’; however the £35million deal has backfired spectacularly on not on him but Liverpool, with a return of just four Premier League goals in 25 games for the former Newcastle man.
Stewart Downing- Was brilliant for Villa, distinctly average for Liverpool. Without a goal or an assist in the Premier League, it’s fair to say Downing’s start with Liverpool has yet to get going.
Jordan Henderson- Another overpriced move for a young English midfielder, Henderson is another who has struggled in the red of Liverpool. Of the three signings in this category, Henderson has been the best and I’m sure will get better over time.
All three have lost or are struggling to keep a hold of their England squad place ahead of Euro 2012.
Done ok
Charlie Adam- Liverpool got their target after attempting to purchase the Scottish midfielder in the transfer window of January 2011; however for me he isn’t as good as two of the centre midfielders Dalglish let go in Alberto Aquilani and Raul Meireles. With Lucas injured, the partnering of Adam with Steven Gerrard in the recent defeat at Bolton only highlighted that the similar duo probably can’t play together, meaning Adam may be edged out of the side in favour of a holding midfielder.  
Doni- A free from Roma, the second choice keeper is yet to figure for Liverpool; however his addition adds strength to the area as Doni is a better goalkeeper then Brad Jones.
Sebastian Coates- The defender was voted young player of the recent Copa America tournament and is seen by many as the replacement to Jamie Carragher when the Liverpool legend hangs up his boots. Due to Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel’s form, he has had limited chances to impress this season; however he is young and looks a good prospect.
Where can Liverpool finish this season?
For me Champions League football is out of the question for Liverpool. They’ve been fortunate in the sense that Chelsea and Arsenal have been poor this season, but Liverpool’s inability to score goals have resulted in far too many home draws. In the big games this season Liverpool have actually been good; with wins away to Arsenal and Chelsea particular highlights, but their recent failure away to Bolton only highlighted how desperately they need Luis Suarez, with Carroll again poor. The defeat to Bolton wasn’t only a poor performance, but its timing couldn’t have been worse, with all of their rivals for a Champions League spot failing to win, meaning Dalglish’s side missed an brilliant chance to close the gap, against a side whose home form was the worst of all 92 League clubs. I think Chelsea will have too much for them in the fight for fourth, so a Europa League spot is the best they can achieve.

They currently hold a 1-0 advantage going into the home leg against Manchester City and with either Crystal Palace or Cardiff in the final, the League Cup is theirs to lose, and with Manchester United in the F.A cup, the League Cup is their best chance at silverware this season.
Kenny Dalglish heavily criticised his players in the recent defeat at Bolton stating they won't be here long if they continue to under-perform, yet he must take some of the blame for this, as six of the 13 who featured were his purchases. Don't get me wrong, Liverpool have improved under Dalglish since his return, but for me they are still miles behind not only both Manchester clubs, but also Tottenham.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Week 8 Predictions

Perry Blanchette 9 points, 3 PS
Norwich 2 Chelsea 1
Everton 2 Blackburn 1
Fulham 0 Newcastle 0
QPR 3 Wigan 1
Stoke 1 West Brom 1
Sunderland 2 Swansea 2
Wolves 1 Aston Villa 0
Bolton 0 Liverpool 2
Manchester City 3 Tottenham 2
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2

Joshua Jones 8 points, 2 PS
Norwich 1 Chelsea 2
Everton 1 Blackburn 1
Fulham 2 Newcastle 0
QPR 1 Wigan 1
Stoke 1 West Brom 2
Sunderland 1 Swansea 0
Wolves 2 Aston Villa 1
Bolton 0 Liverpool 2
Manchester City 1 Tottenham 1
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1

Fraser Stradling 7 points, 1 PS
Norwich 1 Chelsea 2
Everton 2 Blackburn 2
Fulham 3 Newcastle 1
QPR 0 Wigan 1
Stoke 2 West Brom 0
Sunderland 2 Swansea 0
Wolves 1 Aston Villa 2
Bolton 1 Liverpool 0
Manchester City 2 Tottenham 3
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 0

Chris Deacon 6 points, 1 PS
Norwich 0 Chelsea 2
Everton 1 Blackburn 1
Fulham 0 Newcastle 1
QPR 2 Wigan 1
Stoke 1 West Brom 0
Sunderland 2 Swansea 1
Wolves 0 Aston Villa 1
Bolton 0 Liverpool 1
Manchester City 0 Tottenham 0
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1

Tyrone Nicklin 6 points, 1 PS
Norwich 2 Chelsea 2
Everton 2 Blackburn 1
Fulham 3 Newcastle 1
QPR 1 Wigan 1
Stoke 1 West Brom 2
Sunderland 1 Swansea 1
Wolves 0 Aston Villa 1
Bolton 0 Liverpool 3
Manchester City 1 Tottenham 2
Arsenal 2 Manchester United 1

Jack Burman 5 point, 1 PS
Norwich 2 Chelsea 1
Everton 1 Blackburn 2
Fulham 2 Newcastle 1
QPR 1 Wigan 2
Stoke 2 West Brom 1
Sunderland 1 Swansea 2
Wolves 2 Aston Villa 1
Bolton 1 Liverpool 2
Manchester City 2 Tottenham 1
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2

Liam O'Donovan 5 points, 1 PS
Norwich 0 Chelsea 1
Everton 1 Blackburn 1
Fulham 1 Newcastle 1
QPR 2 Wigan 0
Stoke 2 West Brom 1
Sunderland 2 Swansea 1
Wolves 1 Aston Villa 1
Bolton 1 Liverpool 2
Manchester City 1 Tottenham 1
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 0

Daniel Underwood 3 points, 0 PS
Norwich 1 Chelsea 2
Everton 2 Blackburn 1
Fulham 1 Newcastle 0
QPR 1 Wigan 0
Stoke 2 West Brom 0
Sunderland 2 Swansea 1
Wolves 1 Aston Villa 0
Bolton 1 Liverpool 2
Manchester City 1 Tottenham 2
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1

Daniel A Lofti 2 points, 0 PS
Norwich 0 Chelsea 2
Everton 2 Blackburn 0
Fulham 1 Newcastle 1
QPR 1 Wigan 1
Stoke 2 West Brom 1
Sunderland 2 Swansea 1
Wolves 0 Aston Villa 1
Bolton 1 Liverpool 2
Manchester City 2 Tottenham 2
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1

James Sherwood 2 point, 0 PS
Norwich 1 Chelsea 2
Everton 2 Blackburn 0
Fulham 1 Newcastle 1
QPR 1 Wigan 1
Stoke 3 West Brom 0
Sunderland 0 Swansea 0
Wolves 1 Aston Villa 3
Bolton 0 Liverpool 2
Manchester City 1 Tottenham 2
Arsenal 0 Manchester United 2

Saturday, 21 January 2012

African Cup of Nations starts with a couple of shocks.

Host nation Equatorial Guinea and Zambia defied the odds to beat pre-match favourites Libya and Senegal respectively.

Equatorial Guinea, making their first appearance in the history of the tournament, edged past Libya in an entertaining game, with the former Real Madrid player Javier Balboa netting a late winner. And Zambia were too strong for a defensively poor Senegal, with early strikers from Emmanuel Mayuka and Rainford Kalaba enough in a 2-1 victory over many people's, including my own, outside bet for the whole tournament.

Having not watched any of the Equatorial Guinea I'm going on reports I've red when I say the victory was a deserved one. However despite this crucial win, bigger and better teams await in Senegal and Zambia and I can't see them gaining anymore points then the three they already have; not that it takes anything away from a fantastic win, in a group where I didn't feel they would gain anything from.

The Senegal Zambia affair was a match I did watch and for every bit as frightening Senegal look on paper up front; they are as poor at the back, with two goals the least Zambia deserved, who looked very good on the counter attack. The first half performance from Senegal was poor and Zambia took advantage of that early on and were two up before Amara Traore's started to perform; however despite an improved second half showing, Zambia were deserving winners.

I still feel the two sides in the latter game, will both progress but Equatorial Guinea, whom all are $1million richer for ensuring their fate in the tournament was still alive come the final game of the group stage, definitely were the success story of the opening two games of what promises to be a lively African Cup of Nations.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Abidal gives Barcelona the advantage

Eric Abidal’s second half winner saw Barcelona come from behind to take a 2-1 lead in their Copa Del Ray quarter final with Real Madrid.

Real Madrid had opened the scoring early on through Cristiano Ronaldo only for Barca captain Carlos Puyol to head a deserved equaliser moments into the second half. And with time running out, Pep Guardiola’s side won it as Abidal found space in the Madrid penalty area and guided his finish past Iker Casillas.

For the second consecutive time Barcelona came from behind to extend their incredible form in this match under Guardiola and their victory loosens Real’s grip on their only trophy in the Jose Mourinho era.

Pepe was again given a midfield role in the ‘El Clasico’ by Mourinho as Ricardo Carvalho, appearing in the white of Real for the first time since September, partnered Sergio Ramos in the heart of Madrid’s defence.

Despite being on the back foot for most of the opening exchanges, Real opened the scoring through their likeliest of sources. Benzema did brilliantly to find the recently maligned Ronaldo and the Portuguese international smashed home through the legs of Pinto. Ronaldo’s strike was hard; however Pinto should’ve dealt with the effort, as Pep Guardiola’s decision to rotate his keeping options back-fired.

Moments later Alexis Sanchez almost levelled for Barcelona as he headed against the bar. Andres Iniesta’s cross was perfect for Sanchez and his header had Iker Casillas beaten, only to bounce back of the frame of the goal.

Unsurprisingly the game followed its usual theme of Barcelona attack up against a stern Real defence as the likes of Xavi and Cesc Fabregas controlled the game from the midfield area.

Iniesta missed his sides best chance in the first half, shooting wide when well placed. Xavi found Alexis Sanchez with room in the penalty area, and the former Udinese man unselfishly passed to Iniesta; however the World Cup winner’s first touch was poor, ensuring the shooting angle was narrow and Ramos’s saving lunge was enough to put Iniesta off who put wide.

Half time came and went and it wasn’t long before Barcelona converted their pressure into an impact on the score line. Barcelona’s seventh corner of the match was superbly headed home by Puyol. The captain of the Catalan giants lost Pepe and gave Casillas no chance with a brilliant finish.

Benzema nearly gave the holders their lead back but the former Lyon man’s header, from a great Hamit Altintop cross, clipped the post and went wide.

Sergio Busquests really should’ve completed the comeback but somehow headed over when it looked easier to score.

Pepe and Busquests continued the games trend of bad sportsmanship, with both regular offenders playing acting far too much. Pepe in particular embarrassed himself after making out Fabregas had caught him with a stray elbow, despite replays showing the contact, if any, was minimal.

If Real Madrid’s opener was from a predictable source then Barca’s winner couldn’t have been more unlikely as Abidal gave Barcelona a deserved lead. Lionel Messi, who by his standards has a quiet evening, found space on a rare occasion, before threading a beautiful pass through for the rampaging Abidal, who finished well past Casillas.

With Barcelona ahead, Madrid players lost their cool and Carvalho was fortunate on two occasions not to see red. Firstly the former Chelsea defender hacked away at Messi and got a yellow card for his troubles; though on another day he could’ve seen red for a deliberate and crude foul. And in injury time Carvalho clearly fouled the sub Adriano, yet his mister mina went unpunished as Real avoided going down to ten men, but didn’t avoid defeat.

Real Madrid
Casillas 6                                                      
Altintop 7                               
Carvalho 6                             
Ramos 7
Coentrao 6
Diarra 6 (Ozil 5)    
Pepe 6 (Granero 5)        
Alonso 6                                 
Benzema 6                         
Higuain 5 (Callejon 5)                    
Ronaldo 7

Pinto 5
Alves 6
Puyol 7
Pique 6
Abidal 7
Xavi 7 (Thiago 5)
Busquests 6
Fabregas 8 (Cuenca 5)
Sanchez 7 (Adriano 5)
Messi 6
Iniesta 6

Monday, 16 January 2012

Newcastle and Demba Ba in particular, an apology!

I didn't for a second think they'd go down but at the start of the season I did feel that Newcastle would be in the lower regions of the Barclays Premier League this year.

My reasons for this were as follows:

The loss of key players
Alan Pardew and Newcastle United lost not one but four of their best players during the two previous transfer windows in Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton. These four players didn't just help Newcastle regain their top flight status but they ensured that the club were more of a threat to the top 10 then the bottom three.

Alan Pardew's lack of transfer budget
The £35million sale of Carroll hasn't been used to enhance Pardew's transfer budget with the relatively cheap additions of Yohan Cabaye and Gabriel Obertan the highlight of an otherwise low key transfer window for Newcastle United.

Small squad
Their recent 4-2 defeat away to Norwich City exposed how thin of a squad Newcastle have. A back four of Ryan Taylor, Danny Simpson, James Perch and Davide Santon only highlighted how vital Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor are to Newcastle. Their first XI are very good, but I felt if Pardew had to rotate the squad for any reason, the club would suffer; however I was wrong as the likes of Danny Guthrie and Ryan Taylor when called apon this season have been brilliant.

Despite my pre-season expectations of Newcastle United they have not only exceeded them, but probably their own too. The Geordie side currently find themselves 6th in the Barclays Premier League, a point clear of Liverpool following their 1-0 victory over QPR on Sunday, and a Europa League finish is now a distinct possibility.

Newcastle have learnt massively from their brief spell in the Championship and despite the addition of talented forward players, they have built from the back this season conceding just 25 goals in their 21 Premier League matches. Club Captain Coloccini has been one of the players of the season, and after opting against leaving the club two years ago, he has been in the form of his life. Prior to his arrival at Newcastle, the Argentine international had played for seven different clubs in a period of just 10 years; however he finally appears to have settled in the North of England, much to Newcastle's gain. The curly-haired defender's form is sure to have alerted Alejandro Sabella, as Argentina look to re-structure a defence that was so horribly exposed at the recent Copa America. Coloccini hasn't been the only excellent defender at the club this year; the whole back four have performed at a consistently good standard, and until the recent 3-0 home defeat to Chelsea, Pardew hadn't made a change to their defence in 14 Premier League matches.

Another key member of the Newcastle back five has been the goalkeeper Tim Krul, who despite his tender age for a shot stopper has been in incredible form. During a season you can usually lay blame with the keeper for on average three goals a season; however Krul for me is yet to have been at fault for a single goal, admittedly we are only just past the half way stage in the season, but that's still an impressive feat. As a goalkeeper for me Krul has the lot: he's excellent shot stopper, good in the air and appears to communicate well with his defence, and with man of the match displays a common occurance this season, Krul's form doesn't appear to be a temporary thing. Krul's fantastic season hasn't gone unnoticed and with rumoured interest from Spurs, Pardew will hope his Dutch number one won't be joining the recent exodus at the club.

Newcastle on the road this season have been impressive, with their only three defeats coming at Manchester City, Liverpool and Norwich, with the latter down to their lengthy injury list. A reason for why they've been successful away from home this year is because of their excellent team work with another Argentine Jonas Gutierrez a perfect example of the commitment and heavy workload put in. Gary Neville perfectly highlighted the tracking back Gutierrez did following their recent 3-1 success away to Stoke, as the winger helped an out of position Ryan Taylor deal with the threat of Jermaine Pennant. Gutierrez isn't alone in his tremendous commitment with the summer signing Cabaye another who you wouldn't suspect to be a hard worker off the ball, putting in a fantastic shift during the same game.

The loss of Nolan and Barton left a huge hole in the middle of the field; however Pardew was quick to address this with the £6million addition of Cabaye. The Frenchman and Check Tiote work beautifully together and despite both suffering little knocks this season, they both are instrumental in any Newcastle success. The duo's passing success rate is the highest in the club, with Cabaye (up to the 9th December) averaging a brilliant 80%. Danny Guthrie has come in to replace Tiote frequently this season when the Ivorian has been injured, and with the Ivory Coast international off to the African Cup of Nations, the former Liverpool man will have to step up to the plate to replace the hugely popular Tiote.

If my pre-season expectations of Newcastle were wrong, then my prediction that Ba would flop in English football were incredibly wide of the mark. When the Senegalese international first joined West Ham, before he played a game I had written him off as another poor Hammers foreign import; however seven goals in just twelve Premier League matches for a relegated side proved he could cut it in the Barclays Premier League. If his first six months in English football were good, then his second were fantastic. 15 goals in just 19 games means only Robin Van Persie is above him in the Premier League goal scorers list and with two hat-tricks to boot, Ba has been the bargain of the season. Ba has not only showing an eye for a goal, but his movement and ability to find space in the box is up there with the best in the league. As you will see in the video below, Ba always manages to pull clear of the last defender in the penalty area, giving himself space to get a tap-in. The boy doesn't only score tap-ins; he is fantastic in the air; has a great first touch and can score a set-piece. With Ba now off to the African Cup of Nations, Newcastle face a tough few fixtures ahead of them as for me Best and Ameobi aren't in his league. With rumours circulating about a possible release clause in his contract, it wouldn't surprise me to see a really big side take a punt on the injury-prone forward as after seeing him, I believe he has everything a top class striker needs.

The gaffer Alan Pardew deserves a lot of credit too. The former West Ham manager was unfairly sacked in his last three managerial jobs and his last stint in English football was in League One with Southampton, so he wasn't the fans number one choice to replace the popular Chris Hughton during last season; however he has proved many people wrong, including myself. From the outside looking in Pardew appears to have great man management ability and despite Hatem Ben Arfa's recent comments about the long ball football at Newcastle, for me they have played some attractive stuff this season, only using the long ball when appropriate or a set tactic, with the Manchester United game a perfect example of this. Pardew has had a relatively small budget available to him, despite the massive income of transfer fee's from the recent sale of big players, but the big two additions in Cabaye and the injury prone risky move of Ba have proved fantastic deals. At this stage of the season there are four managers who are up for the manager of the year award: Paul Lambert at Norwich; Brendan Rodgers at Swansea; Harry Redknapp at Tottenham and Pardew, and for me Pardew gets it everytime.

The real question is can Newcastle maintain their brilliant start and I believe they can! If they can get through a difficult January, due to the African Cup of Nations taking Ba and Tiote away for a month and possibly add players then I honestly don't see why they can't finish seventh, which when you consider those who are above them and what they've spend and the squad depth available to them, then it would be an incredible achievement.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

United vs Bolton, the autopsy

Back-to-back Premier League defeats where forgotten when Manchester United edged out City in the incredible 3rd round F.A cup tie last weekend; however getting back on track in the bread and butter of the Premier League wasn’t just important it was essential. And despite an array of early missed opportunities the comfortable win was never in doubt.

Team Selection
Paul Scholes’ decision to come out of retirement for his cameo in the derby last week would’ve been the biggest news in most games; however the drama that was played out at the City of Manchester stadium in the end thrusted its way to the main talking point. But the ginger genius’s first start in a United shirt since the final game of the last Premier League season took the centre stage.

Yet more defensive injuries meant Sir Alex’s hand was played for him with Jonny Evans partnering Rio Ferdinand who had been a doubt prior to the match; however both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are expected to return come Arsenal next Sunday. Wayne Rooney was once again partnered by Danny Welbeck with both Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez having to settle for a place on the bench again.

Mixture of poor finishing and concentration nearly cost United.
Throughout the game Manchester United created enough chances to win three games with the much maligned Adam Bogdan in inspired form in the Bolton goal. In the opening ten minutes Welbeck could already of had a hat-trick to his name; only for Bogdan to deny him on all three occasions. His best save came twenty minutes in to ensure Rooney’s second successive penalty miss, as the Hungarian international dived brilliantly to his right to keep the spot kick out.

Thankfully the returning Scholes opened the scoring just moments before half-time; however the expected floodgates didn’t open in the second half and Bolton rallied well and could’ve levelled as Manchester United let Owen Coyle’s side back into the game and Rafael cleared off the line to prevent an equaliser. Welbeck and Michael Carrick added further goals as we went level with City at the top of the table.

Rooney wasn’t having his best game as Scholes dominated.
Sir Alex’s key player didn’t have his greatest game in the red of Manchester United, with a missed penalty topping his error list. Rooney’s passing was off key and the England international didn’t appear to have his head in the right place losing the ball too often from a United perspective. Though Rooney did play in Welbeck for the killer second goal, Rooney and United will have to improve with Arsenal up next.

The returning Scholes slotted into the United midfield like he had never been away as he and the impressive Carrick dominated in the centre of the park. Scholes who topped the pass completion rate against City last weekend was again at his accurate best, with one cross field pass to Antonio Valencia in particular a highlight. The goal topped a fantastic afternoon for Scholes, in doing so quashing any doubters about his decision to come out of retirement.

In a comfortable win, we nearly gifted Bolton a way back into the game in the second half as our concentration levels lowered; however three goals did United justice. It was imperative that we got back to winning ways after two consecutive Premier League defeats, with our under pressure midfield looking good with the partnership between Scholes and Carrick bringing back memories of the Champions League winning season. Valencia in particular was very good again as the Ecuadorian again performed well at Old Trafford. 

Monday, 2 January 2012

My Cricket team of 2011

Sri Lanka's first test win since the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan brought the curtain down on a fantastic year of cricket. India won the World Cup in their own country, defeating a spirited Sri Lanka in the final, as England stormed to the top of the test rankings. Here is my cricket team of 2011, which after a great year for England, is not surprisingly filled with members of Andy Flowers's successful side.

Alistair Cook - England  927 Test runs in a fantastic year for Cook (which doesn’t include the runs he made in the first four tests in the 2010-11 Ashes), as well as earning the England ODI captaincy ensures the Essex batsmen opens the side. A top score of 294 vs. India was the highlight.

Shane Watson - Australia A peripheral figure for the Aussies in all formats of the game, smashing 185 not out in a record innings vs. Bangladesh. The knock included an incredible 15 sixes to ease past the previous record of sixes in an innings. One problem for Watson was converting test fifties into hundreds; however he deserves his place in the side.

Jonathon Trott- England The South African born Englishman averages over 50 in both formats of the game, and the Warwickshire batsmen like England has had a fantastic year.

Rahul Dravid - India despite India having an average year, ‘the wall’ has been in arguably the form of his life. No one score more test runs then Dravid in 2011, which included five hundreds in his twenty three innings.

Ian Bell - England The only batsmen to average over 100 in the year of 2011, with an incredible five hundreds in just 11 test innings. A brilliant 235 vs. India, which was also his maiden test double hundred, in the fourth test helped England to a comprehensive whitewash over the then number one ranked test side.

Virat Kohli - India Surprisingly unused in the test side, Kohli topped the ODI run scorer list. 12 scores of over 50, including four tons, Kohli helped India to World Cup success in their own country at the start of the year.

Kumar Sangakkara - Sri Lanka Despite his countries struggles, predominately in the test format of the game, Sangakkara has had another brilliant year. Sangakkara finished the year with the second most amount of test runs as well as the fourth highest ODI run scorer in 2011. This year he also recorded an incredible eighth test double hundred, with only Brain Lara and Don Bradman scoring more in the games history.

Stuart Broad - England After missing most of England’s ashes winning tour, Broad bounced back brilliantly in 2011 with 33 test wickets in just the seven matches. The Nottinghamshire bowler was a key part of England’s surge to the top of the test rankings. In 2011 Broad also inherited the T/20 captaincy. 

Saeed Ajmal - Pakistan 84 international wickets for Ajmal it was a very productive year for the Pakistan spinner, as no one took more test wickets then him in 2011. Despite not featuring frequently at the World Cup, Ajmal took 34 of his 84 wickets in the ODI format of the game.

Vernon Philander - South Africa Despite just the three test matches, the South African had a fantastic year. He and Steyn so famously destroyed Australia, bowling Michael Clarke’s side out for just 47. Averaging eight wickets per test match during 2011, Philander will look to make 2012 a better year.

James Anderson - England Anderson had a fantastic year as the leader of England’s formidable bowling attack. The Lancashire bowler missed just one of England’s eight test matches during 2011, ironically only one of the two tests they didn’t win the whole year, as Anderson took 35 test wickets and helped England to the number one ranked side.